The Tampa Bay Buccaneers will struggle to stop the Houston Texans' running game. That shouldn't be a surprise: the Bucs have had an up-and-down run defense but struggled especially against the New Orleans Saints last week. Meanwhile, the Houston Texans have one of the most productive running games in the NFL.
With 1,396 yards they're ranked third in the NFL in total yardage. By Football Outsiders' numbers they have the seventh most efficient running game in the NFL.
But there's a more specific reason why the Bucs will struggle to stop the Texans on the ground: the Houston Texans run a zone-blocking scheme, and that scheme has destroyed this defense in the past.
This was most obvious last season, when the Bucs faced the Washington Redskins. Running backs Ryan Torain and Keiland Williams averaged 6.7 yards per carry en route to a 188-yard game. The Bucs couldn't stop that zone running scheme, and that despite the fact that the Redskins hadn't been particularly good at running the ball that year.
The problem for the Bucs is that they fail to consistently get penetration against zone schemes. A zone scheme is based on lateral movement: the offensive line moves sideways, trying to stretch out a defense. The running back then has the freedom to determine where the hole forms - there is no pre-determined point of attack.
The key to stopping that is getting into the backfield. If you penetrate the line of scrimmage against a zone scheme the running back can't cut back, and you eliminate a lot of the running game's options. The only player the Bucs had who could consistently get in the backfield on running plays was Gerald McCoy - and he was placed on injured reserve this week.
Brian Price has the talent to be disruptive, but he isn't consistent enough and still struggles at times - likely a consequence of the massive surgery to his hamstrings and hips he had this offseason. The only hope the Bucs have: Albert Haynesworth. That's not very reassuring.
Another option the Bucs have is to just send run blitzes on every down. That's what they did in the second half against the Redskins game last season. It worked well: it's hard to run against nine defenders no matter how good your running game is. Of course, that gives the opponent options in the passing game.
The Redskins with Donovan McNabb couldn't take advantage, but if the Bucs do this against the Texans the secondary will have to play its best game of the season. Stopping Matt Schaub, Owen Daniels, Kevin Walter and Arian Foster is hard enough when the defense has a full complement of coverage players. It's nearly impossible when the secondary is shorthanded because of blitzes. At least the Bucs won't have to face Andre Johnson.